We've been lobbying the government on hare coursing for many years, and the work has now paid off. The inclusion of amendments on hare coursing in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a testament to efforts right across the NFU and from our members.
The changes to the Bill, which has now been given Royal Assent, will help deter hare coursers by giving police forces the means to seize more dogs and by lifting the existing limit on fines.
It will also mean that unauthorised encampments will become a criminal offence for those who do not leave when asked by the landowner or tenant, and offenders will be hit with strengthened penalties.
Countless NFU members hosted farm visits to help demonstrate to MPs the impact of hare coursing in their constituencies, resulting in MPs taking up the case for us with ministers. This secured a commitment from government in the Queen’s Speech in May 2021 that new legislation on hare coursing would be introduced.
Keeping up the pressure
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was a new, and large, piece of legislation from the Home Office. The influential former farming minister Sir Robert Goodwill MP began testing the water on whether this Bill could be a vehicle for hare coursing measures by tabling some amendments along the lines of what the government has now introduced. Despite government assurances that it would look to act on this, no plans were forthcoming.
As the Bill moved to the House of Lords, we then worked very closely with the Bishop of St Albans, a champion of rural issues, to continue to take the issue forward. When he spoke in the Lords, he received wide-ranging support across the political parties. Indeed, a number of Peers set out how they had themselves been victims of hare coursing.
The Bishop of St Albans commented: "Many colleagues from all sides of the House have heard the terrible and frightening stories of the rural communities who have been subject to illegal hare coursing or indeed have been unfortunate enough to experience it themselves."
"Hare coursing and illegal encampment can both cause significant damage to farmland and wildlife, something farmers across the country experience all too often, with little repercussions for offenders. Their behaviour can also be a source of great distress for farming families who feel vulnerable and threatened in their own homes."
NFU Vice President David Exwood
At the same time, we were using our strong constituency links with North East Bedfordshire MP Richard Fuller who agreed to table a Private Members’ Bill, again focusing on strengthening the laws to tackle illegal hare coursing.
With the pressure from MPs and Peers rising, the government has acted and now the new and extremely welcome legislation is on the statute books.
Protecting rural communities
NFU Vice President David Exwood said: "It is fantastic news that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act now gives the police more powers to protect rural communities from destructive and intimidating criminal activity.
"The NFU identified the original Bill as an appropriate piece of legislation for dealing with hare coursing and worked closely with the government to include significant amendments.
"Hare coursing and illegal encampment can both cause significant damage to farmland and wildlife, something farmers across the country experience all too often, with little repercussions for offenders. Their behaviour can also be a source of great distress for farming families who feel vulnerable and threatened in their own homes.
"We know that both these crimes continue to take a toll on farming businesses and families, and we will continue to work with government and rural police forces to ensure these strengthened laws are utilised to deliver meaningful results – a decline in cases of rural crime."
In 2021, 70,000 members of the public backed our campaign calling for immediate action to tackle rural crime to create a safer, cleaner and greener rural Britain, with particular strength of feeling around action to tackle fly-tipping and dog attacks on farm animals.
What the changes mean
Changes to hare coursing law within the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act include:
- Increasing the maximum penalty for trespassing in pursuit of game under the Game Acts (the Game Act 1831 and the Night Poaching Act 1828) to an unlimited fine and introducing the possibility of up to six months’ imprisonment.
- New powers for the courts to order convicted offenders to reimburse costs incurred by the police in kennelling dogs seized in connection with a hare coursing-related offence.